When I talked about evaluating talents for battlegrounds, I spoke in very broad terms, applicable to all classes in World of Warcraft.
As a quick refresher, the three criteria I evaluate my talents on are:
Broad principles are good, but often they need concrete examples behind them to show how they should and shouldn’t be used. So I’m going to talk about the talent trees I know the most about, and that means we’re talking Warlock talents.
Keep in mind that talent builds are usually described by either the number of talents in each tree (e.g. 53/0/18) or by the highest level talents in each (e.g. Fel/Emberstorm). Both of these can be confusing if you’re not familiar with the class in question, but either the official talent calculator or the Wowhead talent calculator can provide some guidance.
Battleground warlocks are a fearsome lot. You can inflict massive amounts of damage coupled with excellent control spells, all while managing a pet. The only question is; are you going to kill fast, or kill slow?
There are three Warlock talent trees: Affliction, Demonology, and Destruction. Broadly, Affliction covers your DoTs and drains, Demonology buffs you and your pet, and Destruction improves your direct damage. There’s a lot of synergy between the trees to use to your advantage. For example, end-game raiding Affliction locks spend talent points in Destruction to speed up and buff their filler spell, Shadow Bolt, while raiding Destruction locks dive into Demonology to buff their Imps to increase their DPS.
Battleground locks, though, build not to maximize damage, but for survival and control. Only once they have those elements do they maximize their damage.
There are some talents which really shine in the battlegrounds. Let’s take a look.
THE CORE: DEMONOLOGY
The core of a warlock’s battleground talent build are the early Demonology talents. These talents give your warlock the survivability that they need to excel in PvP.
The first 10 points in Demonology increase the health and mana of you and your pet, which is useful in and of itself. But it’s the 11-point talent Soul Link that is the one you really must get. Soul Link redirects 20% of all incoming damage to your demon, no matter what. By itself this is good, but in concert with many of the warlock healing talents (Fel Synergy, Siphon Life, Soul Leech) it should be on the top of your list of warlock talents.
Now, that said, you don’t see a lot of pure Demo warlocks in battlegrounds, or anywhere, really. Most Demo locks are hybrids, which have a definite role in PvE. But for PvP, you do tend to see warlocks going after a few talents in the tree, and then focusing on their main tree. Most will spend 17 points in the tree to get Fel Domination and Master Summoner, both used to quickly bring your demon back once killed. Soul Link won’t help you if your demon is AWOL.
The 17-point Demonology core looks something like this:
- 3/3 Demonic Embrace
- 2/2 Improved Healthstone
- 2/2 Fel Synergy
- 3/3 Fel Vitality
- 1/1 Soul Link
- 3/3 Demonic Aegis
- 1/1 Fel Domination
- 2/2 Master Summoner
A common Arena variant is to take 3 points from another tree and place them in Improved Succubus to improve her crowd control ability.
You’ll notice that every single talent in the core 17-point build improves either your or your pet’s survival. It skips talents like Improved Imp — a great talent for raiding Destro locks — because you have to survive to do the damage, and some of these talents are just too good to skip. Even if you only take 11 points in Demonology, your warlock will be at least 25% more durable than without those points.
As awesome as the early Demo talents are, the deeper in you go, the less useful they are for PvP.
Once you have the 17 (or 20) points for the core, the only reason to keep going into the Demo tree is for the 41-point talent, Summon Felguard. The Felguard hits like a truck and is arguably the best demon minion not on a cooldown. He’s like an undergeared warrior under your control, and he absolutely shines in PvE. He’s not bad in PvP, either.
But keep in mind that if you want him, you’ll only have 30 points to spend in buffing your own abilities, and once your Felguard goes down, you are at a serious disadvantage. Many players will ignore (or banish) the Felguard and concentrate on you, so be ready for it.
In its current state, the 51-point Demo talent Metamorphosis is not worth it for battlegrounds. It’s also not worth it for raiding, instance grinding, leveling, Arenas…
Okay, it’s good for roleplaying. I’ll grant that.
Until the 51-point talent is reworked (perhaps by eliminating the CD and allowing it to be a more-or-less permanent form), there’s no reason to go deep into the Demonology tree. If you like playing the Felguard, by all means get him. But don’t go any further.
TL;DR version: don’t spec deep Demo for PvP.
KILL ‘EM SLOW: AFFLICTION
Now we start having some fun. The Affliction tree has great talents for leveling, end-game raiding, and PvP. It’s a great talent tree to work with because of this flexibility, and the damage you can churn out is phenomenal. But you have to be careful to match your talents with your playstyle, or you’ll find yourself watching a lot of that damage happen from the graveyard.
With 17 points invested in the Demonology core, you’ll have 54 points to spend in Affliction. And if you’re going to play Affliction, it’s worth spending each and every one of them in this tree.
The keys to an Affliction playstyle are to focus on DoTs, drains and fears. You kill slowly, sucking the life and mana out of your opponents, preferably while cackling evilly.
(A good cackle is really important to your battleground performance. Don’t discount it until you’ve perfected it.)
The key to Affliction in a battleground is to establish control over your opponent while setting them up to die. You have to maintain control and distance so that your spells have time to work.
Again, we look at the talents with an eye towards survival, control, and then output. There are a few real gems in this tree, a good set of solid PvP talents, and then it’s damage optimization. Let’s start with the gems.
Siphon Life makes your primary damage-dealing spell Corruption into a healing spell, too, healing you 40% of each tick you inflict. Given the buffs Corruption gets in the Affliction tree, especially with Pandemic letting it crit, Siphon Life is one of the keys to an Affliction lock’s performace in a battleground.
The 51-point talent Haunt provides similar benefits to Siphon Life, dealing damage and healing in the same spell. It also increases all Shadow DoT damage by 20%, which means that it improves Siphon Life, too. Coupled with Shadow Embrace, Haunt turns your DoT stack into something to fear.
The 41-point talent Unstable Affliction adds much-needed dispel protection to PvP. It is a threat to any healer who tries to remove DoTs; dispel me and get silenced for 5 seconds, as well as take damage. In Arenas this is particularly powerful, because each healer is under scrutiny and this silence can be immediately taken advantage of. Battlegrounds are messier, so sometimes healers just take the damage and debuff while purging DoTs.
(Oddly, for PvE, this really is ‘just another DoT,’ albeit one that can now crit. It’s a flexible spell — if you need the control offered by the dispel protection, it’s there, and if not, hey, it’s more damage.)
It may go without saying, but Grim Reach is an essential PvP talent. Distance is key to control and survival.
Improved Howl of Terror is another must-have talent for the battlegrounds. It turns Howl of Terror into an instant-cast AoE Fear bomb, and is essential for clearing melee away from you. Yes, fear has been nerfed in Wrath and breaks really easily, but you need every tool you can get when melee gets too close (or you get Death Gripped.) Between Howl of Terror, Fear, and Death Coil, you should be able to get away from a determined melee.
Once you’ve got distance, it’s time to make use of the last critical talent, Curse of Exhaustion. CoEx is the only real snare in the Warlock’s bag of tricks, slowing an opponent by 30%. I’m of two minds about CoEx; it keeps melee at a distance, which is essential, but it takes the place of Curse of Agony, and I like that sweet, sweet CoA damage. But the control (and implied survivability) that CoEx offers shouldn’t be discounted.
There are several other PvP talents you should take on your way through the Affliction tree, but as a general rule, you can now optimize your damage output. An Affliction battleground build would include most, if not all, of the following talents:
- 5/5 Improved Corruption
- 2/2 Soul Siphon
- 3/3 Fel Concentration
- 1/1 Amplify Curse
- 2/2 Grim Reach
- 3/3 Empowered Corruption
- 5/5 Shadow Embrace
- 1/1 Siphon Life
- 1/1 Curse of Exhaustion
- 5/5 Shadow Mastery
- 5/5 Contagion
- 2/2 Improved Howl of Terror
- 3/3 Malediction
- 1/1 Unstable Affliction
- 1/1 Pandemic
- 5/5 Everlasting Affliction
- 1/1 Haunt
That’s 46 points. The remaining 8 points should go in the following, based on playstyle, gear, and pet preference:
- Improved Curse of Agony
- Improved Life Tap
- Improved Fear
- Dark Pact
- Improved Felhunter
- Improved Succubus
Each of these can be useful in a battleground, but they are really a matter of personal choice. (Yes, even Nightfall is optional. It adds much needed burst to the build, but the proc rate is low.)
I’ve put together a sample 54/17/0 build if you want to see how this works.
KILL ‘EM FAST: DESTRUCTION
I remain amazed how talents can completely change the feeling of a class. (Warlocks are by no means unique in this.) Instead of the slow, unstoppable trickle of Affliction damage, Destruction shoves it all in your face with massive crits and devastating direct damage combos. Yes, they use some of the same spells, in a completely different way. Destruction has fewer control abilities than Affliction, and is particularly weaker against melee opponents. But Destro excels at ranged burst damage and can burn down opponents before they have a chance to respond.
The key talents in any Destruction build are Conflagrate and Chaos Bolt. These are great damage-dealing spells, especially the power of Chaos Bolt to ignore armor and resistances. However, the key talents in a battleground Destruction Build build on those two spells to add more control and damage mitigation. It’s not all about the damage meters, after all.
Let’s start with Shadowfury, an AoE stun grenade. Shadowfury is awesome in battlegrounds. Want to stop several people from capturing a node? Shadowfury. Multiple healers giving you problems? Shadowfury the lot, CC one, kill the other. Need an instant 2-4k damage boost? Finish off with Shadowfury. The stun+damage combo is an extremely versatile control tool; spend some time learning how to use it.
The early talent Aftermath also applies a stun affect, this one dazing your opponent for 5 seconds after Conflagrate hits. Five seconds is enough time to get off 2-3 Incinerates when Backdraft procs, which can be another 15-20k damage.
Range is always good in a battlefield, so Destructive Reach is another key talent.
Destruction doesn’t offer the same variety of healing and damage mitigation talents that Affliction does, but it does have Molten Skin to absorb some damage, Nether Protection to provide some spell resistance, and Soul Leech to get some self-healing into the tree. Molten Skin is a great talent. Nether Protection was a great talent who recently got nerfed — again — so it’s now only a good talent, but still worth taking. And Soul Leech…
Soul Leech is a talent that perfectly illustrates the difference between a battleground build and an Arena build. In the Arena, you have a partner to watch your health bars and keep you healed, so this talent becomes a mana efficiency talent for your healer. It is therefore frequently swapped out for Improved Succubus. In a battleground, though, you simply cannot rely upon a healer being present all the time. So I’m going to say that it’s a key battleground talent, even though it’s not a key Arena talent. It’s situationally useful. These three points becomes the defining feature between the two PvP builds, and you’ll see a lot of both. All I can say is: try it out and see which works for you!
The remaining talents are really all to improve your output, leaving you with a build that looks something like this:
- 5/5 Bane
- 2/2 Aftermath
- 3/3 Molten Skin
- 5/5 Ruin
- 2/2 Intensity
- 2/2 Destructive Reach
- 3/3 Backlash
- 3/3 Improved Immolate
- 1/1 Devastation
- 3/3 Nether Protection
- 5/5 Emberstorm
- 1/1 Conflagrate
- 3/3 Soul Leech
- 5/5 Shadow and Flame
- 3/3 Backdraft
- 1/1 Shadowfury
- 5/5 Fire and Brimstone
- 1/1 Chaos Bolt
This leaves 1 point floating in the early part of the tree to go into either Destructive Power or Shadowburn. Some warlocks swear by Shadowburn; I am not yet one of them. I’m still working it into my rotation. It’s a bit like Dark Pact in the Affliction tree; some swear by it, others swear it’s a waste of a talent point. The only way you’ll know is to try it and find out.
I’ve rambled long enough. Here’s a sample 0/17/54 talent build if you like to look at how this all lays out.
BEST IS THE OPPOSITE OF GOOD
There is no such thing as the best spec for a battleground. There are good talents, and good talent builds, but the builds above are just two examples. The process of getting to them — evaluating your talent trees, thinking about your role in a battleground, of taking a generalist’s view at your abilities — is more important than the final build. Every patch brings with it new changes and new challenges, so you have to be fluid and adapt. Even if you don’t play in the battlegrounds, at least now you have a framework to evaluate your talents and say, “that would be great for Alterac Valley, but not for a raid. I’ll pass.”
Also, don’t let this post make you think for a moment that you have to respec to enter a battleground. You don’t. If you’re leveling and want to do some PvP to blow off steam, totally do it! Maybe you’ll be encouraged to put a few points into Howl of Terror or Shadowfury now, but they’re hardly essential to having fun in a battleground. Plus they come in handy out in the rest of Azeroth, too.
Happy talent building!